Apple partners with WKU to bring tech to bookstore

Michael Mckay

The wood tables are solid and blonde. The aluminum bodies lying on top are lined in rows, the same distance apart from each other. The retina displays of the MacBook Pros are bright and the iPad minis are placed on chargers in spaced lines.

Two men, described by coworkers as “experts,” stand behind the wood display, ready to open up iPhones, MacBooks and iPads.

But this isn’t the Apple store. It’s The WKU Store in the Downing Student Union.

WKU joined the University of Kentucky this fall as the second university in the state to be officially recognized as an “Apple Authorized Campus Store.”

Lacey Jackson, marketer at The WKU Store, said the addition of the “Tech Center,” where students can buy computers and other electronics, is a new concept in the bookstore business. The Tech Center also sells Dell products.

“Ten years ago, I don’t think bookstores would have ever seen themselves in the tech industry, but this is just where we’re at these days, you know,” Jackson said.

Jackson said WKU has had conversations with Apple about a store for at least the last two years when the bookstore was located on the third floor of the Downing University Center.

Ross Hooks is an account executive based in Austin, Texas for Apple. He “works hand in hand” with large universities, such as UK and Vanderbilt University in Nashville to supply Apple products to campuses.

Hooks said the “authorized campus” status doesn’t mean the bookstore is limited in what services it can offer.

“They have most of our products in stock,” Hooks said.

WKU is allowed to tailor the Apple hardware it orders to appeal to students, faculty and staff. The university is only allowed to sell to students, faculty and staff, as mandated by Apple.

Hooks said Apple requires the campus to agree to only “benefit” the university community.

The nearest official Apple store to WKU is nearly 50 miles away in Nashville.

Hooks said he understood the usefulness for the local community to have an Apple store closer by.

“I wish it was (open to the public),” Hooks said. “Trust me.”

“They don’t want us to be competing with other box retailers,” Jackson said of the Apple mandate. “That’s why we’re not listed as an Apple store, that’s why any advertising I do is always geared toward your campus group.”

But the Tech Center may already have competition. The Place, located on Fountain Square, is the only Apple Authorized Specialist Provider in Bowling Green.

In addition to selling Apple products, the store also handles warranty repairs — the only place in-between Louisville and Nashville certified through Apple to do it.

A submanager of The Place, Kenan Kimble, said she believed The Place has a different clientele than WKU’s store.

While she said the store will likely lose some of their WKU customers, Kimble said she wasn’t worried about competition.

“We’re different and it’s big enough for both of us,” she said.

One of the goals for The WKU Store is to set up a “Genius Bar” of it’s own for the Apple users, meaning the store would repair Apple products and offer support.

That qualification would make the bookstore and The Place the only two stores in the area to offer the service.

Lurien “LR” Kennon, manager of the Technology Department at The WKU Store, said people at the bookstore are training online to become experts in all of the products.

As the semester goes on, they plan to be able to do service for people who have insurance for their Apple products, called AppleCare.

Jonathan Sullivan, a student worker at the Tech Center, said he hoped to start working on the AppleCare work soon — after he has more training.

He already has his tools, Sullivan said, while taking out a thick plastic box of his personal set of metal rods that resemble instruments at the dentist’s office.

“I tell you, this kid, he’s just like, on it,” Jackson said of Sullivan. “I think we hired him the first day he came in.”

Sullivan said he’s been using PCs all of his life, but he switched over to Apple products once he came to college. He said he likes how he doesn’t have to worry about constantly repairing Apple products; it’s why they’re so particular.

“Once they built their device, that’s what it is,” he said.

Kennon has been working with the university for the last three months, ordering the Apple and Dell products for the store.

Kennon said so far, Apple products have outsold Dell since the store opened.

“The Dell products are good products and they have their own following, but Apple products do reach their own demographics,” Kinnon said.

Now that the store is set up and training is almost complete, Jackson’s next focus is getting students to come to the store.

Like other areas of the store, Apple is “very particular” about the presentation of the store.

Hooks and other Apple representatives worked with the bookstore to make sure they were in line with Apple regulations and suggested guidelines.

“They give us a little flexibility on fixtures, but how they are displayed are what they are very particular about,” Jackson said.

Jackson said marketing the Apple aspects of the store, including how much money should be set aside for it each quarter, was another thing Apple has specific guidelines about.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling a little bit because this is my first experience dealing with something so formal, like so rigid,” Jackson said. “Like my boss Jim Sears said, ‘You play by Apple rules, you don’t make the rules.”

As long as The WKU Store plays by the rules, the tables will be rectangular and the wood will be blonde.